AWR Blog

AWR Director Named Grassroots Activist of the Year

by Shane Castle

A Helena man who has been characterized by at least one U.S. Forest Service manager as a “tenacious SOB” has been named grassroots environmental activist of the year.

Mike Garrity, director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, recently received the award from the Fund for Wild Nature and earned mountains of praise by FWN board member and environmental author Jeffrey St. Clair in an article titled “Defender of the Rockies: Why Mike Garrity is Conservationist of the Year.”

AWR is a nonprofit with the stated mission of securing “the ecological integrity of the Wild Rockies Bioregion through citizen empowerment, and the application of conservation biology, sustainable economic models and environmental law.”

“The award means a lot because we get criticized by so many people,” Garrity said in an interview for this story. “We get criticized by collaborative environmental groups, the timber industry, the Forest Service, and I get threatened by people who want to shoot me. It is nice to be thanked occasionally.”

Why the animosity? St. Clair’s explanation for why Garrity deserved the award also sheds some light on why certain people find him so threatening.

“Garrity thinks big,” St. Clair wrote in his article. “He doesn’t merely want to protect high-profile scenic parcels of the region. His goal is to secure permanent protection for all the untrammeled spaces, some 18 million acres combined, and link them together with biological corridors. This isn’t some grandiose fund-raising ploy geared toward squeezing grants from East Coast foundations or Bay Area tech billionaires with a fetish for bison. It’s the only real option for saving the wild landscapes of the Northern Rockies as functioning ecosystems, instead of what our mutual friend Steve Kelly dismissively calls ‘postcard ranges.'”

The distinction St. Clair makes might not be clear to everyone, and will probably anger some people, but his rather bold contention is that a lot of the big-name conservation nonprofits have large staffs and are bloated with rich people’s money they dump into high-profile conservation projects that may be good for generating a feedback loop of publicity and donations but can’t compete with the successes of a hyper-efficient little operation called AWR that only has one full-time paid staff member—that is, Garrity.

St. Clair quoted a former Montana forest supervisor as saying, “Garrity is one tenacious SOB. After a few years of being shell-shocked by appeals and lawsuits, even our biggest timber beast grew to respect the guy. They didn’t like him, but they viewed him as an honorable opponent.”

AWR has had a lot of success over the past few years, particularly challenging logging projects in national forests when the government thumbs its nose at its own rules.

In his article, St. Clair wrote that the Government Accountability Office investigated AWR and discovered that, under Garrity’s leadership, AWR had filed 28 percent of all the successful lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service. He also touted AWR’s 85-percent overall success rate with lawsuits over the past decade.

“That’s an eye-popping record of success,” St. Clair wrote, “but it also serves as a rather chilling indictment of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.”

“Nobody talks about the reason we win all of these lawsuits is the Forest Service keeps breaking the law,” Garrity said. “Instead of blaming us for the Forest Service breaking the law, people should question the Obama administration and Congress.”

AWR is showing no signs of letting up. The same week Counterpunch announced Garrity’s award, AWR filed a lawsuit to stop a 1,100-acre logging project and prescribed burn in Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The next week, it filed another.

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